Every hack psychologist and creative writing teacher will tell you that writing is therapeutic. I feel it’s my job as an author to tell you they’re full of shit. Reliving Ryan’s death has never brought me an ounce of peace. I feel like I’m Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. Only instead of aiming to seduce Andie MacDowell, I’m trying to kill Ryan in such a way that no one will know who he is. As his lover, his confidant, and his killer, it’s my duty to keep his secret.
So why am I telling it here? There’s no moral here, no healing, no zen realization about life’s suffering or love. I can’t offer any reason why I happened to Ryan or vice-versa. I offer it only as what it is, near truth. Which is all I have left.
Maybe I’m in the minority (and I don’t just mean because of the gay thing), but I don’t find rape confessions to be a big turn on. Sex was no longer on my mind, in fact it wasn’t even in the same zip code as my mind, as I held Ryan sobbing in my arms. “I’m so sorry. I know this isn’t” sob “what you planned on tonight.”
I kissed the top of his head. “Don’t worry about it.”
I fell asleep sitting against the couch with Ryan in my lap. When I woke up it was light out. Ryan was still asleep. I wiggled out from beneath him, and put a pillow under his head. I went upstairs to shower my drunk off. It was my day off, but I had to go to work, pick up my check, cash it, and frivolously spend it on CDs. I’d get some writing done until Ryan woke up, then either fix us breakfast, or head out to a diner.
By the time I was done with my shower, Ryan was up. “Hey.”
I flashed him my ridiculous looking smile. “Morning.”
“Thanks for the pillow.”
“No problem. It’s probably not as comfortable as my inner-thigh, but it’s the best I could come up with on short notice.”
He grinned back. I’m a sucker for goofy smiles.
“I should probably head home and get ready for work.”
“Want some breakfast first? I asked.
“Nah. Never touch the stuff. Are you working tonight?”
“Nope. You’re working with Karen.”
“Mind if I stop by later? No drinking this time.”
“Sure. Give me a call when you’re on your way.”
He did his best to dewrinkle his shirt and headed to the door. Then stopped, walked back toward me and kissed me. I’m also a sucker for good kissers.
I spent the day in a daze of good music and happy thoughts. I went swimming, fired up the grill and made some chicken. I was adding my homemade teriyaki glaze when the phone rang.
“Hey Safe, it’s Ryan. I’m on my way.”
His arrival was perfectly timed with my completion of dinner, which was delicious. I felt incredibly domestic.
As Ryan and I put the dishes in the sink he threw his arms around me and kissed me on the cheek. I giggled. This was the gayest I’d ever been without having my dick in someone’s ass.
“Do you want go upstairs?” he asked. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to waste any energy walking all the way to the other side of the condo and up the stairs, but I said yes.
If I were to go on pure lust factor, perhaps the sex would have been mundane, very vanilla. But this wasn’t about sex. This was someone I’d been subconsciously in love with for years. Someone who, if he didn’t love me back, at least wanted to take a chance on me.
I fell asleep with his arms wrapped around me. His personal faith in humanity flotation device. I could save him.
I woke up the next day and he was gone. My panic attack lasted just long enough for me to notice the note on my computer desk.
He loved me. I did the happy underwear dance around the room. Looked longingly at the phone. I wanted to call everyone I knew and tell them the news, but, of course, I couldn’t. I wasn’t going to be the one to push Ryan out of the closet. Not yet, anyway.
I went through the motions of my day, as though I was on ecstasy, which, in a sense, I was. I got home a little late, made myself some mac and cheese, and sat down to write. I don’t know when I fell asleep, I only know that I woke up next to a blank piece of paper and half a bowl of cold macaroni and cheese. I looked at my answering machine. No messages. I was okay with that. After only two days of knowing Ryan was gay and interested, I wasn’t going to turn into that obnoxious “Why didn’t you call me?” obsessive lover.
The next day, I got up early, headed out to work, and started doing some of the miscellaneous jobs that should have been Ryan’s. I was organizing cases of wine by brand when the phone rang.
“Thank you for calling Cranberry Liquors, this is Zachary, how may I help you?”
“Safey, it’s Karen. Is Ryan there?”
“Not yet. I was about to give him a call. I got so busy organizing the wines that I didn’t realize he was late. Want me to give him a message.”
“No. He didn’t come in yesterday.”
My Adam’s apple falls into my stomach. “What?”
“I would have called you, but it was so dead yesterday that he sort of did us a favor.”
“Ok. Well, thanks Karen. I’ll call him and see what’s going on.”
I call his cell phone, and am not terribly surprised to get no answer. I am wearing my best pessimism. He freaked out about us and moved to Tibet. His mother had another heart attack, and he’s at the hospital again, and was too overwhelmed to remember to call out for work. But Ryan isn’t the sort of employee to even call in sick, nevermind do a no-call no-show. And if there was some sort of emergency he would have called me. I’m his boyfriend. Sort of. I must have come on too strong, and now he can’t even stand to look at me.
I am just reaching the meat of my pity-me sandwich when I see him walking toward the door. I crack my knuckles, breathe deep, and say, “You’re late.”
“It’s eleven o’clock in the morning. If anything, it’s a little early to be buying a case of beer.”
“Sorry,” I say to the person who isn’t Ryan. “I thought you were someone else.”
“No problem.” As he walks over to the beer cooler, I dial Ryan’s home number.
“Ms. Evans? Is Ryan there?”
“Who is this?” He is screening his calls. Or she is. She sounds like she’s holding back tears. Did he tell her?
“Safey Mode. I work with him at Cranberry Li―”
“Oh, Safe. I’m sorry. I should have had someone call yesterday. I’ve just been so―”
I remember seeing Michael Hutchence’s father, Kelland, interviewed on VH1. He was telling the story about how, on the day his son’s body was found, the first phone call he received was from a reporter asking if he had a comment for the papers. “You mean about the new album?” Kelland asked. The nervous reporter muttered only “Oh God.” and hung up.
“He died yesterday.” The beer cooler slams shut. I sit down. Ms. Evans and the man with the case of Michelob Light are talking to me at the same time. So sorry. How much? Visions of his car wrapped around a tree. Lovely day for the beach. Drunk driving. Incorrect change. Cryptic suicide note. So sorry. Dead. Have a nice day. Dead.
I hang up the phone, walk over to the door, and lock it. I pull the chain on the open sign, and walk into the beer cooler to scream.
My mother used to call the Catholics vampires because were so fixated on drinking the blood of Christ. "The only reason they chose wine to represent His blood was to give them an excuse to be alcoholics."
The first time I went to Catholic mass, I was nine and spending a school vacation at a friend's cabin in Remote Resort Town. I was so fascinated with the rituals that I followed my friend up to the altar and heard the priest say "This is the body of Christ. It was broken for you. This is the blood of Christ. It was shed for you." Shed not spilled but shed. Something done with Purpose, something even more powerful than Reason. As an adult, I recognize the power of His blood being shed instead of spilled. As a child, I envisioned snakes.
Despite my family's somewhat negative view of Catholicism (my parents were both raised Catholic, and were practicing adults until the Catholic Adoption service deemed them unfit to adopt...and for the record, as the child they did end up adopting and raising, they're saints compared to an overwhelming majority of Catholic parents I know), I've never been one to generalize about people. If I'm going to dislike someone, it's going to be for their specific attitudes and actions or their vocation.
I refuse to generalize about Catholics, but I will say that in my experience, catholic priests are snakes. I remember hearing about priest abuse back when I was a pre-teen in Cranberry Lake. My neighbor across the street was raped by a priest in the seventies. She was raising her children Congregationalist. By the time we moved from Cranberry Lake to Nowheresville, she had converted my mother. While I've never had strong opinions on the religion front, it was nice to see my mother find something she believed in.
I found my faith in the body of man. I've never felt the need to kneel for any man, but I've prayed to eyes, and made sacrifice for holy voices that offer me love or forgiveness.
Ryan's eyes were salvation. That first night, when the awkward drunken conversation had been pissed out of us in the river of Guinness and Cider Jack, our conversation got exceptionally sober.
"When did you realize you were gay?" he asked me. I told him a condensed version of the truth.
I suppose this was my moment to ask him when he realized. I didn't.
The subject shimmied into something abstract and unimportant like what we looked for in guys, when I noticed that Ryan had fallen asleep. On my floor, like a teenage girl at a slumber party.
There is something perfect about the physical appearance of a sleeping man. Still, all I wanted to do was interrupt his sleep. A kiss on the cheek, pulling him up by the arm and leading him up to my bed. I wasn't thinking of fucking. I wanted to rest my head on his stomach and listen to the tide of his breath.
"Ryan." I whispered as I brushed his hair back. "Ryan."
"It's me, Insafemode."
"Oh. Safey. Is it time to go to wor--" comprehension pried his eyelids apart. "What?"
"I thought you might want to go upstairs and sleep in a bed."
"I was hoping." His eyes swiveled away from mine. "But there's the spare bedroom if you'd prefer."
"I'm sorry. It's--" his eyes came back, as if on a pendulum. He leaned in to kiss me. His tongue tasted like barley. His 3 AM stubble scratched my own. I bent toward him for another kiss when he shot up and into the bathroom. Another sacrifice to the porcelain oh god of hangovers.
"Are you ok?" I asked when he came back out. "I know I'm not the world's best kisser, but--"
"No, it's not that, it's--"
"I know. I was kidding. We both drank quite a bit tonight."
"It's not that either. The last time I kissed a guy--" I knew this was a pause I shouldn't fill. "I was raped. My--" He turned and spoke to the TV, as though it were displaying the real truth behind human emotion, rather than reflecting the streetlight as filtered through venetian blinds. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Now I can't-- can't kiss a guy, can't even pass a fucken church without shaking." "Fuck. Fuck him."
I was nine years old and standing behind Patrick, waiting to take communion for a religion I knew nothing about. Everyone else in the church was standing up and walking toward the altar. I heard the priest say "This is the body of Christ. It was broken for you. This is the blood of Christ. It was shed for you."
Ryan was shaking in my arms. Baptizing me with his tears. His tears shed for his lost faith. It occurred to me, shed is more than a verb meaning to pour forth. It's also a noun. A place to store things when you don't need them, but know that someday soon you will: a rake, a bicycle, a secret, your religion.
Ryan and I had known each other since he was thirteen and I was sixteen. The fact that we never had an inclination about each other is further proof that something in Cranberry Lake air jams the fuck out of gaydar.
We'd met at a summer camp, and as is common in Cranberry Lake and the rest of The Peninsula, we'd seen a hell of a lot of each other since: various parties, at the beach, at random mutual friends' houses.
I was managing a liquor store and waiting tables when he showed up at the restaurant looking for a job. He was less than qualified, and therefore, not hired. So I hired him at the liquor store, allowing me to take more time off to wait tables and fuck strangers that I'd met over The Internet. His working at the store affected my porn time, not a bit.
So when he showed up at my front door, I said "Ryan." I was thinking FUCK.
"I wasn't expecting ---" someone who I've hired twice to work with me to show up on my doorstep wanting me to fuck them up the ass. I wasn't disappointed, mind you. Ryan was fun to be around, and easy on the eyes.
"This is very ---"fucking awkward.
"Awkward. Yea." But I was willing to make the most of it. Even if we weren't going to get our fuck on, our IM conversation had hinted that he really needed someone gay to hear his shit. I was gay. I was his friend. I was more than willing to hear him out, and offer whatever advice I could.
"Yea." Was he going to come in or was he going to run screaming back into his car and drive off into the night. And if he did, was I going to half to hire a replacement at the liquor store?
"Well ---" I did my best frog bow a la Lewis Carroll. "C'mon in."
Ryan did the hawk circle around the den, picking up and then replacing the seashell ashtray, and the Tom Robbins book. "So. This is Chez Insafemode."
"You've been here before." "Haven't you?"
"Not since you got back from college, no." I watched a single drop of sweat make its way down Ryan's forehead and down the bridge of his nose. I could barely restrain myself from walking over to the couch and licking it off.
I had never realized how beautiful his face was. Well." Maybe I had. Maybe that's why I kept hiring him. Maybe my gaydar wasn't as fucked as I thought. Maybe I'd just buried it into my subconscious. How had I not realized how badly I wanted him. "Hard” yes I was “Lemonade?"
"I should probably be going." Over my dead fucken body.
"No. Please. Make yourself at home.” Move in “I know this isn't what" I tapped on a few of the piano keys. "either of us expected but" damn it, it's what I've wanted for years, whether I was aware of it or not. I flipped the cover over the keys. "you said you needed someone to talk to."
"Yea. But the idea was that it wasn't someone I knew. And that we would" he picked up the ashtray again I'd never seen him nervous before. He was so cute when he didn't know what to do with himself. "but I mean" he put it back down "that would be weird now" So the fuck what? he examined it as if it contained the most important element of his DNA "Right?" Wrong. It made perfect since. Our lives had been intertwined for six years. There was no logical reason for it. Small towns be damned. We were meant to be together forever and ever and -- I must have been fucken tanked.
"Are you sure you don't want something to drink?" I didn't want to be the only one trashed out of my fucken gourd.
"Jesus. I could really use something to drink, but if I have to drive home later."
"No. Don't worry. You can sleep in” my bed “the spare" I remembered the piles of dirty laundry and other assorted crap I'd thrown in the spare bedroom. "Couch. The spare couch." My bed.
"Okay." He sat on the couch. "Do you have any Guinness?"
I did. Back when I juggled restaurant work and managing a liquor store, my house was filled with every conceivable beer and hard liquor known to Cranberry Lake Liquors. I wasn't too much of a lush but company was forever dropping by, and whether it was a friend from work or someone who stopped over for some cock, they always wanted something to drink. I wondered if he knew that I'd been a little liberal with my employee discount. Would he care? Had he been liberal with his discount? Dear Lord, what if we started fucking on a regular basis and I ended up having to fire him for stealing or --- Yea, I was drunk.
"So." Ryan picked up the ashtray again. "You're gay."
"Yea." I went into the kitchen and pulled out a Guinness and a Hard Cider (much better than Hard Lemonade).
"I had no idea."
"Well. When I'm not in love or balls deep in a guy's ass, it's not an important part of my life."
"Fuck." I handed him the Guinness and a gigantic mug I'd picked up when I worked at a Renaissance Faire. "Have you ever fooled around with anyone I know before?"
"That's classified." I hadn't. Yet. "Would you want me telling the next guy about you."
He chugged the Guinness like it was a Coor's Lite. "Well. We're not going to." We were going to I could see it in his eyes. And in the bulge in his khakis. "I mean, we can talk and everything" more chugging "but you probably don't want to" "that would be too" perfect?
I went into the kitchen again. I brought the whole four pack out. It wasn't too far a walk from the den to the kitchen but I had a feeling I wouldn't want to leave the room again. It also didn't take much of a psychic to realize that he was going to drink through his fair share of widget cans.
He took the second can, popped the top and poured it into the mug. "You're not just trying to get me drunk to take advantage of me, are you?"
"Would you like me to seduce you?" "Is that what you're trying to tell me?" I couldn't tell whether he was getting the movie reference, or if he thought I was just quoting a George Michael song.
"Ha." He took another pull. "Man." "I don't know if I'm up for this." Again, I refer you to the bulging khakis. He was up for it.
"No worries." I sat down in one of the chairs facing the couch. "You said you wanted to talk about things first anyway."
He picked up the ashtray again.
It wasn't that I was ugly, it was just that when I first started whoring over AOL, I didn't have any pictures of myself on my computer. I knew what I looked like. Most people on AOL just assumed that if you didn't have a picture on your computer then you were some hideously deformed freak with a tuna casserole where your face should be. After a week of being mostly rejected due to my non-pic having status, I broke down and got some pictures scanned.
Sure, some of the people who rejected me because I didn't have a pic went on to reject me again, but more than a few became Insafemode Entries.
Not being too much of a hypocrite, I often agreed to meet people without pictures. Most of the guys were average to good looking. Granted, I have fairly low standards. The way I figured it, it was just as easy to lie about what you looked like by sending a fake pic as it was to just not send a pic.
Ryan was a twenty year old closet case who didn't want his picture sent out, but he seemed sweet and funny so I decided to take a chance. I attended to the usual: toss all of the dirty laundry into the spare bedroom, change the sheets, make sure the condom drawer was filled, and make sure I'd taken proper advantage of my employee discount at the liquor store.
The doorbell rang at almost exactly midnight, thirty seconds before Cinderella's coach turned back into a pumpkin, and a minute before Peter Peter came to eat it.
When you've agreed to meet someone for sex, someone you haven't seen before, you mentally come up with a variety of possible appearances for them. Ryan said he was 5'9", brown almost black hair, swimmer's build. With a description like that he could look like anyone. Well, anyone 5'9" with almost black hair.
I tried to picture how he carried himself. Perfect posture? Mild slouch? Hunchback? What did his ass look like? I hadn't yet met Elvis, so I didn't realize that it was possible to have a concave ass.
When the doorbell rang I imagined his wide nose, piercing green eyes, and big pouty lips. I was in no way prepared for who would be waiting on the other side.